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Switching to Straight Talk: Which Cell Phones Are Compatible?

You may be able to bring your own phone to this budget provider (and save some serious cash), but make sure it works first.
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Though you're probably familiar with the major smartphone carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, there are a lot of smaller providers offering reasonable service at excellent rates.

In the past, these providers were often distinguished from the big brands due to the fact that they offered prepaid, no-contract phones. While such carriers didn't necessarily offer service for the latest smartphones, there was a lot of appeal to their budget-friendly prices. But as the big carriers have started to step away from contracts themselves, the differentiation between the two types of carriers has grown more vague.

Same Networks, Different Rates

So just what is the difference from the brand-name carriers and Straight Talk Wireless, a budget brand run by a partnership between Walmart and TracFone? Surprisingly little, especially as the mobile network is a MVNO (or "mobile virtual network operator"), meaning TracFone has agreements with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile to use their networks to provide service.

This means making a switch from your current carrier to Straight Talk's $45-a-month unlimited plan (with unlimited talk and text as well as up to 5GB of 4G LTE data) is unlikely to even alter your service.

(It's worth noting that many of our readers would disagree that the networks are equivalent. When we previously asked for feedback on Straight Talk Wireless, we received dozens of comments describing terrible customer service. However, if you don't run into issues, this may be worth the cost savings.)

But is your current phone eligible to make the switch to Straight Talk? That's where this gets a bit more complicated.

Bring Your Own Phone

Straight Talk advertises itself as a "bring your own phone" carrier, suggesting that you can take whatever phone you're using on a major carrier and swap it to a Straight Talk plan to save cash. If you're bringing an existing phone over, there are still a few caveats:

  • You need to own your phone. More and more providers are moving to lease-style programs in which you don't actually own your phone. If you're on such a plan, your phone may not be yours to move to another carrier.
  • You need to be off-contract. If you bought a phone through a carrier on a two-year contract, you're locked in with them until the end of your contract period. Cancelling early may cost you a hefty fee.
  • Your phone needs to be carrier unlocked. Most phones are locked so they only work with that carrier. This doesn't mean you can't use them with other carriers — especially a network like Straight Talk, which is only using major carriers' networks — but you're likely to have to talk to your carrier to unlock your device.

What If I Want a New Phone?

If you want a brand new phone, Straight Talk lets you buy select — but not all — models directly and will support most new-model GSM or CDMA phones (more on those in a minute) you bring to the service. However, if you can buy a phone on one of the networks Straight Talk supports, you should be able to run it on Straight Talk as well — including the latest iPhone and Android models.

SEE ALSO: Walmart Straight Talk Review: Is the Wireless Service Any Good?

Just be aware that in order to run this phone on Straight Talk it will need to be a carrier-unlocked model, meaning you'll either pay full retail price up front or have to use Straight Talk's financing options — both of which may be less appealing than what major carriers have to offer. If you don't typically buy unlocked phones, be warned: There may be some sticker shock, as major carriers will either subsidize your purchase or let you pay in installments over 12 to 24 months.

Do I Have a GSM or CDMA Phone?

If you've started the process to sign up for Straight Talk, the first snag you've likely encountered is the question of whether you have a GSM or CDMA phone. You probably haven't run into this terminology if you've been using a phone from one of the major carriers, but it's important information if you're thinking about switching networks.

It comes down to the fact that different carriers use different types of technology to communicate. In the U.S., AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM while Verizon and Sprint use CDMA — and the technology your phone was built to work with limits the networks it will work on. Though this isn't make-or-break for an MVNO network like Straight Talk, you'll need to figure out what kind of phone you have to get appropriately set up.

GSM phones and LTE-capable CDMA phones are (typically) as simple to set up as swapping SIM cards from your current carrier's to a Straight Talk SIM (which can be purchased for 99 cents) — but some CDMA phones that don't use SIM cards will just need to be set up on the new network.

Which Phones Can I Use?

Straight Talk supports most GSM and CDMA phones and offers nano, micro, and standard SIM cards for use with a variety of phone models. However, what's available in your area will depend on the networks available to you. For example, if you have a Sprint phone but have moved to an area that doesn't offer Sprint coverage, your existing phone may not work. To check whether your current phone will work, just head to Straight Talk's website and provide information on your current phone and location. CDMA (Sprint and Verizon) phones require some additional verification to ensure they'll work on the network by entering a device identification number.

Straight Talk will directly sell these models — including both smartphones and feature phones — though you may find the specific models available in your area vary:

  • Alcatel Onetouch Pop Icon
  • Alcatel Onetouch Pop Nova LTE
  • Alcatel Onetouch Pop Star LTE
  • Alcatel Onetouch Sonic LTE
  • Huawei Ascend II
  • Huawei H215G
  • Huawei Inspira
  • Huawei Pronto LTE
  • Huawei Raven LTE
  • iPhone 6
  • iPhone 6 Plus
  • LG 441G
  • LG Access LTE
  • LG Lucky
  • LG Optimus Dynamic II
  • LG Optimus Fuel
  • LG Sunset LTE
  • LG Ultimate 2
  • Moto E
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace Style
  • Samsung Galaxy Centura
  • Samsung Galaxy Discover
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
  • Samsung Galaxy S4
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
  • Samsung R375C
  • Samsung S336C
  • ZTE Majesty
  • ZTE Merit
  • ZTE Midnight
  • ZTE Paragon
  • ZTE Rapido LTE
  • ZTE Solar
  • ZTE Unico LTE
  • ZTE Whirl
  • ZTE Valet

You'll notice that none of the latest smartphones are on that list — but they're still likely to work on Straight Talk. Any AT&T- or T-Mobile-compatible GSM phone that can use nano, micro, and standard SIM cards should work on the network without trouble, which covers a huge range of modern smartphones.

Readers, what have your experiences been with Straight Talk Wireless? Have you switched any of your cell phones to the carrier? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Contributing Writer

Elizabeth is a professional writer and a non-professional technology enthusiast, with a keen interest in how tech is changing the world we live in.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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14 comments
Smgosnay
Hello,
I have an I phone 6 that was on sprint network. The contract has been meant and I payed sprint 200 for the phone. The phone has been unlocked after calling sprint and waiting 2 days. Wanted to get straight talk but they told me phone model was not compatible . I had a friend that had an I phone 5 he bought from straight talk with a straight talk chip . We took the chip from his phone and put it in my iPhone 6. It worked great was able to get the Internet and call out get and send text. I went to wal Mart and they told me oh ya if the phone is unlock then it will work so I bought the 70 dollar chip set. Now straight talk will not activate the phone because they say yes the phone is compatible but not eligible. I just don't understand what's going on the phone will work with our chip but they won't activate it because They say it's not eligible what a crock .
tmv66
I have not seen the online chat service in quite some time. That was much easier than trying to communicate with customer service (wherever they are based - not in the US). If you purchase an activation kit for BYOP, do NOT attempt to follow the directions. You will invalidate the simcard number, then have to call customer service, and wait for them to send you a replacement.

Back when they had the online chat, you could just type them all the info and they would instantly get everything set up. Verbally, it takes days, if at all, to get connected. i think the reps just don't get the numbers right.

I loved ST for many yrs for me, but hated trying to get 3 family members actually moved over with their existing numbers.
boilers
5 phones (service for 5 phones).
From LG slider, to Moto e, iphones, etc.
PTEL and Republic here.
Just averaged past 6 months. $46 per month adding up each phone's/user's cost. Of course, this is pay as you go for PTEL. So, it's not a regular/fixed monthly expense. So, it takes about a year or so to get a good feel of how it all averages out.

Can one find cell service WITH DATA for not much more than $50/month for all five phones? If so, I might consider it.
MatthewWeathers
I really like Straight Talk. It's cheap, and it works well for me. I bought a Google Nexus 5 phone 18 months ago, and have been using Straight Talk since then.

(Some have complained about customer service... I've never had to call, so it doesn't bother me.)

If you're signing up for a two-year contract, do the math: multiply the monthly cost by 24 to see your total two-year cost.

For me, the unlocked phone cost $442.91 after tax & shipping, then Straight Talk is less than $48 per month after tax, so my two-year cost is about $1595. If you're paying $85/month, your two-year cost is $2040, PLUS the cost of the phone.
vwoom
"How does a flat $30/mo, running 5GB 4G LTE data on literally infinite hours of talk and free text/SMS (international included) and having 3 (THREE) cell phones lines total (my unlocked Nexus 6 does)..and 1 of 2 lines making calls via WiFi or data, sound to you??"

Edit: Actually, 2 of the 3 lines can make indefinite hours of talk, either via WiFi or data..
vwoom
"Switching to Straight Talk: Which Cell Phones Are Compatible?"

Switching TO Straight Talk??...hahahahahah!!

This topic should be.."Switching FROM Straight Talk..". I did just that, from the $45 plan..

How does a flat $30/mo, running 5GB 4G LTE data on literally infinite hours of talk and free text/SMS (international included) and having 3 (THREE) cell phones lines total (my unlocked Nexus 6 does)..and 1 of 2 lines making calls via WiFi or data, sound to you??

Straight Talk $45 prepaid "tactic", is a..has-been!!

Sorry, but this is a BAD (and way old) tip article...
mike88
With basic research you can save a small fortune on cellphone service with straight talk. After taxes i pay $47 and change per month for "unlimited" everything. I have not hit the bottle necked 5GB limit in the two years i have had the service, for that matter my little sister never has either. We both purchased carrier locked ATT iPhones. Just order the correct sim card kit. It's not rocket science, but you do need to pay attention. Actually we helped my grandma order an iphone 5 to set up on straight talk when she was tired of ATT's high prices. We shipped the phone and sim activation kit to her house and grandma set everything up without asking for help or telling us she was doing so. The problem with bringing your own phone to straight talk is that it is meant for people who have the capacity to ask the right questions and conduct research. If you don't want that initial time investment there are better pay as you go options that hold your hand through the transition process.
boblenk
@bmathew
You need to get the StraightTalk SIM for the carrier you want. You can choose any of the big four.

Make sure your "world phone" really works with the carrier you choose. It's very likely not to work with CDMA, which is required with Verizon and Sprint for voice and text (as well as data in areas without LTE coverage). If it is an LTE-capable phone, make sure it has the proper LTE bands for the carrier you choose.

Also make sure the carrier you choose has good coverage where you want to use it.
boblenk
First - yes this can be a great way to get cell service and save money.

Second - a correction. In most cases your phone does NOT have to be carrier unlocked. If you are using the phone on the same underlying network (e.g Verizon phone on StraightTalk/Verizon) it should just work. Carrier unlocking is mainly useful for using an AT&T phone on T-mobile or vice versa. Most CDMA LTE phones can't be moved between Verizon and Sprint due to different LTE frequencies.

Third - note that StraightTalk is one of several brands operated by AmericanMovil. It has good prices for unlimited plans. For lower usage users, their Tracfone brand can be significantly cheaper (under $7 a month - approaching $4 a month for really low usage).

Finally - yes, their customer support is poor (for both brands). If you rely on CS a lot, it's probably not a good choice. But there is a lot of knowledge, experience, and support available on user forums like http://howardforums.com
bmathew
If I unlock a world phone that is supposed to work on all the major carriers, how can I control which one Straight Talk puts me on? Thanks
tradderjohn
bought a verizon iphone5, the straight talk wizard, said it was good to go on straight talk network. After I bought the activation kit, the compatibility wizard said it would NOT work on ST network.

straight talk ATT or verizon service, only works where there is service, it "roams" where there is service.
lunchbeast
I had Straight Talk for a little over two years, and I have to ask - why would anybody want to? Great price, until you need customer service for anything. Absolutely the worst customer service I've ever experienced with any company ever, every time I called, and that even includes Comcast. The only thing they're good at is apologizing for how bad their service is. Switched to Walmart's T-Mobile plan (MyFamilyMobile) about six months ago, and so far, much betters. Needed customer service twice - no long holds, no excuses, they just answered my questions and got me the help I needed. I wouldn't say they have the best customer service, but it's decent, and the plan I have has better options than the one I was on with Straight Talk and costs about the same.
lendouglass
My daughter is using an ATT Branded Galaxy S4 on Straight Talk with no problems. We required some assistance to set up the phone for 4G but their Tech Support walked us thru it quickly. If you pay for a year of service it is even cheaper than $45/month. I had attempted to use that phone [allegedly unlocked when I purchased it] on T Mobile and experienced Wi-Fi connection problems, sent it back to Samsung under warranty and it came back locked to ATT. Replaced it with a T Mobile branded S4 which has been flawless. Decided to take a gamble and try Straight Talk with a 30 day plan, it worked flawlessly, so set up daughter with a year of unlimited talk and text with 5 Gb data.
blue_ridge_hiker
Great prices but there is only one problem with StraightTalk service. It doesn't roam. So if you have a Verizon ST phone you will only have service in a Verizon area. If you had true Verizon and moved out of the service area, most likely you'll still have service through roaming.
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